Above: Image © primeimages , iStockphoto.com

Are you tired of being nagged to remember to water the plants when your parents go away for the weekend? Well, scientists are actually working on a solution that not only gets you out of watering duty, but is also beneficial for the environment. It’s called a drought tolerant plant!

At Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, an organization focused on horticultural science, researchers are developing a flower that requires much less water than other flowers to survive. This research, dubbed the “Petunia Project” for the star of the show, is currently being conducted in labs and greenhouses by research scientists, technicians and graduate students using applied genomics (using genetic (sequence) information to improve plant breeding).

Sequencing a genome allows scientists to determine exactly what genes are present. Since the petunia genome has not yet been sequenced, scientists take advantage of sequence data that is available from other species (such as tomato and tobacco). They look for common sequences (or plagiarism within the genomes)! This information can then be used to develop a genetic test to select plants based on their genetic makeup. Plants that carry a beneficial copy of a gene (for example, a drought tolerant gene) can be selected for breeding.

As you can imagine, a flower that doesn’t need to be watered as often has some major advantages over regular flowers – it will stay healthier, look nicer for longer, and consume much less water than the rest.

This last point is very important because although it may not seem like you’re using a lot of water when you water your houseplants or backyard garden.

Did you know? The average garden hose pumps out more than 1000 litres of water per hour.

Think of it this way – if you spend one hour per week running water for flowers (that’s less than 10 minutes a day) it’s the equivalent of filling one large backyard swimming pool per year. Considering that four out of five Canadian households water their garden, that’s a lot of clean, fresh water being consumed by your plants instead of you! Try to imagine how much water your local garden centre and nursery is using!

Once scientists have perfected the drought tolerant petunia, this process may be applied to other plant species – a bonus for the environment since high levels of water usage place stress on the ecosystem and our fresh water supply. And, once these flowers hit store shelves, your parents won’t realize it when you forget to water the plants!

Learn More!

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre: www.vinelandresearch.com or info@vinelandresearch.com.

http://www.earthcarecanada.com/FAQs/Water_FAQ.asp

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-002-x/2007002/10336-eng.htm

Article first published on November 9, 2010.

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